#WackyWednesday and “irresistably weird”

Meps pushing shopping cart with Dario in it

Meps with a stray shopping cart of North America

Two years after winning the infamous and international Diagram Prize for the Oddest Title of the Year, Strangers Have the Best Candy continues to pop up on lists all over the internet. Here are some of the latest I’ve found in my Google searches.

March 15, 2017: #WackyWednesday: 10 of the strangest books ever written

The Newcastle Advertiser featured Strangers Have the Best Candy at #9, below Pop Sonnets and above Dinosaurs With Jobs.

March 1, 2017: 23 Irresistibly Weird Books You Won’t Believe Actually Exist

Amazon suggested this “Frequently bought together” bundle for $33.45

I noticed one day that book sales were trending up. Not only that, but Amazon was offering Strangers together with How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack and Stray Shopping Carts of North America. A Google search discovered this list on Buzzfeed, with Strangers at #20, below the Bill Murray Coloring Book.

December 7, 2016: 15 Questionable Book Titles That Really Exist

Julie Jarema of Riveted came up with rather obscure, but excellent titles, including How to Raise Your IQ by Eating Gifted Children and The Do-It-Yourself Lobotomy.

July 2, 2016: Top 10 Greatest Travel Books

Strangers Have the Best Candy is listed as the #1 Travel Book on the Crushing Tomatoes blog. It’s an honor, but to be honest, the review is completely anonymous and slightly suspect. I prefer the Buzzfeed list, myself.

 

Why I still march: 2017

Al, Nancy, and Pat, who met at the parade over a decade ago. Old-timers from Clearwater, they loved talking about what it was like in the “old days.”

There’s a chapter in Strangers Have the Best Candy entitled “In or out? The dilemma of every parade.” Although I marched in the Brunswick MLK Day parade a couple of years ago, this year, I chose to be on the sidewalk, photographing marchers in the Clearwater, Florida MLK Day parade. By sharing my pictures and stories, I am making their voices heard.

Al, Pat, and Nancy are three old-timers who met on a corner, watching the parade, 12 years ago. Every year since then, they look forward to meeting on the same corner and watching the parade. I listened to them talking about the way things used to be, here in Clearwater. In the 1950’s, Al was going to an all-black school near downtown Clearwater. Then the schools were integrated, and he went to Kennedy School, to the north, for the rest of his education. Nancy, who is white, sent her children to that same school.

On MLK Day, we can celebrate our accomplishments for equality, but we must not forget that there is still work to be done. We must not become complacent.

This Saturday, I’ll have my camera with me at the Women’s March in Washington D.C. I won’t stand for anything less than equality for women, the disabled, people of color, and the LGBTQ community.

Two years ago, I marched in a Martin Luther King Day parade in Brunswick, Georgia, surrounded by African-Americans who are still fighting for their rights. You can find the photos, along with the article “Why I still march” on my former blog, mepsnbarry.com.

Awesome old bear on a bike

pen and ink drawing of teddy bear picnic

The scene at Gasworks Park in Seattle on Sunday

I was setting up my first Teddy Bear Picnic in Seattle when along came a tandem bicycle with a teddy bear sitting on the rear seat. That’s definitely not something you see every day, even in a crazy place like Gasworks Park.

It was my friend Bret, whom I worked with in a previous life at Expeditors. He’d ridden his brand-new tandem across Seattle with Pandy, a 68-year-old teddy bear, taking the spot where his wife usually rides. “She didn’t help much,” he said of the bear. “She’s pretty old.”

Given that Bret and his bear are probably close in age, I suspect that’s not the real reason. Nor was it laziness, because teddy bears are never lazy. The real reason Pandy wasn’t pedaling? The seat was not adjusted properly for her short legs!

Here are a few photos of the Teddy Bear Picnic, which featured homemade cookies and lots of sunshine. Frank Lloyd Bear and I can’t wait to do it again…how about in a park near you?

The Joyful Bear in Seattle

Last week, I presented The Joyful Bear and “Ten Things I Learned from my Teddy Bear” at University Bookstore in Seattle. The audience got to meet Frank LLoyd Bear, and we took some charming photos of him with his fans.

If you would like a photo with Frank Lloyd Bear, stop by Gasworks Park this Sunday, July 24 between 4 and 6 pm. We’ll have cookies, teddy bear philosophy, photos, and most importantly, hugs!

Frankie makes new friends

Frankie, the Joyful Bear, has been traveling and meeting new people all across the U.S. Here are some of his new friends and fans, beginning with old and new friends who came to our presentation at The Book Loft of German Village. If you’ve never been to The Book Loft, it has 32 rooms and is one of the most unusual (and non-ADA-compliant) bookstores in the world. The books are neat and tidy, but the architecture is downright higglety-pigglety!

After his visit to central Ohio, Frankie boarded an Amtrak train (watch the video!) in Cincinnati and rode for four days to Eugene, Oregon, enjoying the scenery and capturing hearts along the way. He was extremely impressed with fellow author Tamara Boyens, whom we met in the observation car of the Coast Starlight. A Ph.D. student in Tucson, she publishes dystopian novels in her spare time.

Showering at 70 mph

I was riding the California Zephyr, an Amtrak train that goes from Chicago to Emeryville, California, when I got a song stuck in my head:

“I bet there’s rich folks eatin’ in a fancy dining car,
They’re probably drinking coffee, and smoking big cigars.”

That’s from Folsom Prison, Johnny Cash’s song about a man in prison watching a train go by. When it got stuck in my head, I hadn’t noticed that I was only a few miles from Folsom Prison, in central California.

Anyway, after three days on the train, I’d like to set the record straight about those two lines.

Donner Lake

Frankie looks out at Donner Lake

Trains are full of hundreds of people (and teddy bears) with nothing to do but look out the window. You might keep that in mind the next time you think about peeing beside the railroad tracks. I’ve seen seven deer, three hawks, one sandhill crane, and two men peeing.

On the other side of the equation, people notice passenger trains, and sometimes, they wave. I saw kids waving from the front porch of their house, as well as fishermen and rafters waving from the Colorado river. “What, nobody mooned you?” asked a woman I met in the dining car. Evidently, mooning is not unheard of.

For the first leg of my trip, from Cincinnati to Chicago, I sat in the section called “Coach.” Every seat was full, and people lurched up and down the aisle all night long, back and forth the bathrooms. I dozed, but I didn’t sleep well.

In Chicago, I discovered the Metropolitan Lounge, a sparkling, brand-new facility just for first-class passengers. I was eligible, because I had booked a sleeper car for the middle portion of my trip. Suddenly, I had access to free sandwiches, wine, coffee, and deep, comfortable seats.

I had arrived in “First Class.”

When it was time to board the train, the first class passengers were whisked onto the last three cars, the ones behind the dining and observation cars. Sleeper cars are always very quiet, compared to coach. People speak in hushed voices, and the loudest sound is the flushing of the vaccuum toilets. The sound of the whistle is very faint, and even the tracks are super-quiet, unless we are going across a switch, which makes the wheels clatter, or around a bend, which makes them squeal.

Meps in the bathroom

I didn’t take photos in the shower. But here’s one from the bathroom.

One of the first things I did when the California Zephyr departed from Chicago was take a shower. There is absolutely nothing special about a shower on Amtrak; it’s a standard little stall with a stack of bath towels and soaps. But I was traveling at 70 mph while I did it.

Then I got cozy in my private “roomette,” which I only had to share with two teddy bears. I hung up a couple of jackets, set my books and notebooks on the shelves (which are also the steps to the upper bunk), and plugged in my laptop. At 7:00, I went to dinner in the dining car, sharing a booth with three strangers. We all ordered the exact same steak.

Fortunately for my dining companions, there were no tunnels during any of my meals. Whenever we went through a tunnel, I was in my private room, and I kissed my teddy bear. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go read Strangers Have the Best Candy.

To return to the Johnny Cash song, the folks in the dining car were not rich folks. We were just average people from all over the world — librarians, retired postal workers, families on summer vacation. Some of us drank coffee, like the song, and some drank tea, wine, juice, or soda. We had our choice of steak, chicken, seafood, or vegetarian entrees. For desert, chocolate mousse was the favorite, but there was strawberry cheesecake, ice cream, and sugar-free vanilla pudding.

Charleen

Best service ever!

Unlike the dining cars of old, we did not have custom china, only plastic dishes. But some of the flatware had an Amtrak logo stamped into the handle. Most importantly, my meals featured a fantastic server named Charleen, an efficient woman with a twinkle in her eye and an encyclopedic memory of everyone’s beverage preferences.

Absolutely no one on the entire train was smoking a big cigar, because we’d been warned that if anyone was caught smoking, they would be thrown off the train. Furthermore, we were told over the loudspeaker, if anyone tried to smoke in the bathroom, all the bathrooms would be locked for the duration of the trip.

For two nights, I had my choice between the top and bottom bunks, and I divided my time between them. Last night, the Big Dipper was hanging over my window, as big as I’ve ever seen it, so I moved to the lower bunk to enjoy the view. There was nothing else to see outside my window until first light, when we left the Bonneville salt flats, crossed the Nevada state line, and passed Winnemucca. The riotous lights of the casinos left after-images on my retinas.

If you see an Amtrak train going by, be sure to wave. Even though it seems like another world aboard the train, we do see you. Some of us are waving back, or else we are mooning you. With the tinted windows, you’ll never know which.

 

How long does it take?

The cab driver asked. The waitress asked. The shuttle driver asked. All my friends asked. When people hear that I am taking Amtrak from Cincinnati to Eugene, Oregon, the first question they ask is, “How long does it take?”

Theoretically, it will take about three and a half days, assuming the train ever gets here — the Cardinal is already scheduled to be 1-1/2 hours late!

I’ll travel up to Chicago first and then transfer to the California Zephyr, with a sleeper car. That means two good nights of rest, showers, and all my meals in the dining car, sharing tables with strangers. The toughest decision will be whether to sleep on the top bunk or the bottom one. Finally, after another transfer in Sacramento, I’ll get to ride the most beautiful train route in the country, the Coast Starlight through northern California and Oregon.

Union Terminal

Union Terminal

The first part of the adventure, simply arriving at Union Terminal in Cincinnati, was awe-inspiring. I loved the exterior of the 1933 Art Deco building, and I took a bunch of photos. But inside, there was simply no way a camera could capture the interior. At 106 feet high and 180 feet wide, it’s the largest half-dome in the Western hemisphere, and it’s jaw-dropping. Here’s an application that lets you pan around it, so you can get a sense of the scale.

Frank Lloyd Bear is excited about our Amtrak adventure. He likes trains much more than airplanes, because trains have whistles.

 

The Joyful Bear: A Furry Philosophy for Overcoming Adversity and Finding Happiness

make-you-happy

Get a book to make you happy!

Today marks the official launch day for The Joyful Bear!

This is a landmark moment in teddy bear literacy. If a 10-inch tall teddy bear can publish a thought-provoking book of inspiration for adults, what kind of dreams and goals can you achieve?

I have a dream for this little illustrated book about happiness. I dream that it will make people smile and appreciate their lives a little bit more. I dream that Frank Lloyd Bear will become a 10-inch tall celebrity. I dream that the message of The Joyful Bear will spread far and wide, and will make the world a happier place.

You can order a copy of Frank Lloyd Bear’s book from Amazon or directly from the two of us, autographed. It’s available in both paperback and Kindle formats.

 

 

And the Very First Copy of The Joyful Bear goes to…

Juanita poses with Frankie and the first copy of The Joyful Bear

Juanita with Frankie

This is my brother’s best friend, Juanita. The two of them have been buddies for many years, and Hank serves as a guide for Juanita when they go out to restaurants and events. Technically, this is called, “the blind leading the blind.”

Juanita came up to Hank’s apartment to see me when I got to Columbus. Ever-curious and full of questions, she asked if she could feel my new book, which she cannot see. Little did she know that Frank Lloyd Bear was waiting for such a request. He jumped into her arms and gave her a big, furry bear hug, because you don’t need sight or hearing to appreciate a teddy bear.

To Frankie’s surprise, Juanita asked if she could buy a copy of The Joyful Bear. She planned to give it to her sighted friend, Jane, who helps her out a great deal. We are honored by her request, so Jane gets The Very First Copy, courtesy of Juanita.